Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Variety's October 17, 1962 review read, "As a screen hero James Bond is clearly here to stay. He will win no Oscars but a heck of a lot of enthusiatic followers." The James Bond craze didn't really go ballistic until about a year later, but Dr. No got the series off to a solid start. The film is so famous and well-known that I'll skip plot descriptions to concentrate on the appeal of the Bond phenomena.
Director Terence Young not only initiated a new style in thiller escapism, he coached Scottish actor Sean Connery into affecting the right swagger and correct school manners to play Ian Fleming's notorious English secret agent. Everything about the movie seemed different, immediate and up to date, especially 007's attitude toward sex and fair play. Bond affects the manners of a gentleman, but he's a total cad with the ladies. Knowing that he's got an extra half hour with the seductive Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), Bond takes her to bed one more time before turning her over to the cops.
Bond survives in a ruthless struggle by abandoning chivalric codes. Violence is his game and at heart he's a sadistic thug. Perhaps the most shocking and exhilarating scene in the picture is when he turns the tables on the assassin Dr. Dent (Anthony Dawson). Instead of having Dent arrested, Bond executes him in cold blood: "You've had your six." Bond enjoys killing. We love watching him flout the rules of heroic conduct.
It's fairly well known that Dr. No was the third attempt to turn Ian Fleming's James Bond character into a movie franchise, and the Bond phenomenon lies at the middle of a number of trends. Some of them were a couple of years late. Monty Norman's Calypso flavored score even has a number ("Jump Up Jamaica") that imitates a Harry Belafonte hit. 007 also benefited from a highbrow connection, the buzz that President Kennedy was an Ian Fleming fan. Jack Lord's C.I.A. contact Felix Leiter may have purposely been given a JFK haircut and glasses to acknowledge that connection.
Fleming's Bond is an amalgam of many 1950s pulp trends. The main connection is Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer character, a brutal vigilante who likes dishing out punishment to crooks and dishonest women. Bond's tendency to crack wise with throwaway lines definitely comes from the American hardboiled tradition, with a touch of class perhaps borrowed from actor David Niven's personality. Bond works as a secret agent for England at a time when the Cold War insured a steady diet of villains. But instead of fighting Spillane's gangsters or directly battling the Russians, Bond squares off against various comic book substitutes: mad doctors, a fantastic gold smuggler, a villainous Mabuse- like archvillain named Blofeld. In Dr. No Fleming repackages the original "Yellow Peril" threat Fu Manchu as a half Chinese - half German boogeyman, with robotic metal hands.
There seems to be no end to influences on the Bond series. I've written about the films' thematic connection to film noir thrillers and Hammer's Dracula movies. The main structure for Dr. No seems derived from the Sci-Fi thriller Quatermass 2: the hero detects a strange conspiracy that is interfering with a rocket base, tracks the villain down to a secret high-tech lab (usually on an island) and blows it up. Half the Bond movies and many of the imitators use this same formula. Dr. No brings in an atomic reactor and Cape Canaveral rocketry as its nod to Space Age fantasy.
Dr. No also introduced a new style in escapist thrillers. Sober espionage stories couldn't match the appeal of Sean Connery's suave 007 walking through danger with total self-confidence. Taking a cue from TV's Peter Gunn, Bond is followed everywhere by his jazzy guitar-driven theme music. How can he lose? He's beaten, bruised and shot at, but survives to share a fancy dinner with his sinister host (Joseph Wiseman, a great New York actor underplaying marvelously). We know we're in comic book land when Bond and No exchange threats and insults over a fancy table setting. I guess the SPECTRE training manual neglected to advise megalomaniac criminals to simply shoot Bond right away, if they were lucky enough to catch him.
Broccoli and Saltzman's production looks far better than it might thanks to Young's direction, a couple of impressive Ken Adam sets and previous experience in Caribbean filming courtesy of their movie Fire Down Below. That Rita Hayworth picture shares casting like Bernard Lee, and similar characters, such as a black boatman pal similar to Dr. No's Quarrel (John Kitzmiller). Even the Variety review noted that Kitzmiller was called on to roll his eyes and act frightened like the old Hollywood Clarence Muse stereotype. The Bond films are mildly racist, which only puts them at par with other English films of the time.
Richard Maibaum's script has to tame down the sex a bit, with the female fantasy figure Honeychile Ryder (Ursula Andress) not half the feral mantrap as she was in the book. Fleming's Ryder is an odd combination, an oversexed, infantile loner who defends herself with a large knife. Of course, it doesn't take much for Bond to tame her into his usual pussycat consort. 1
Six James Bond adventures are finally on Blu-ray, and Dr. No leads off the first batch. The good news is that the Lowry Digital 4k restoration work looks phenomenal. this first show was released in Technicolor and earlier video incarnations look very grainy, even the DVDs. Lowry scanned the entire movie, worked it over for flaws and damage and optimized its bright, sharp photography. When Ursula Andress arrives on the beach at Crab Key, the picture looks better than it did in theaters. Lowry's work has resulted in new film elements for theatrical use as well as an improved video image.
The disc uses something it calls 'smart menu technology', but whatever that is, it's far inferior to the stylish menu animations that accompanied the Special Editions from eight years ago. It breaks the first rule of Savant's theory of Menu Design by being difficult to navigate. The various menu choices are disguised under clever names. "MI5 Declassified" gives no clue as to what one is selecting.
The menus work in a rotary pattern that only shows two or three choices at a time. Without knowing to scroll up or down (which makes loud, meaningless CLICK noises), one will miss many alternate extras.
Now the bad news. The disc appears to have all of the Ultimate Edition extras from the earlier standard DVD release, with a few more. Some are in HD and the movie clips in others are said to have been bumped to HD. I've listed them below. I'd have investigated further but I could not get any of the extras to play on my Sony Blu-ray player. Not only that, any attempt to scan through the feature resulted in a lock-up that could only be averted by turning off the machine and trying again. I mention this in the review because the web is already buzzing with news of other consumers having difficulty playing these Bond discs, on machines both newer and made by several different companies. I've recieved this title and two others. No extras will play and one disc won't even play the feature. I've loaned the discs to a friend, whose new Panasonic plays them just fine. I'll probably be visiting him this weekend to sample the title that wouldn't play.
I hope MGM resolves these playback issues. My Blu-ray player is only seven months hold; if I knew for sure that it was now officially obsolete I'd simply grit my teeth and buy another. The enormously popular Bond Franchise should be helping Blu-ray expand its user base, not raising doubts about the format.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Dr. No Blu-ray rates:
Supplements: Audio commentary with director Terence young and others, Featurettes 007: Licence to Restore, The Guns of James Bond, Premiere Bond: Opening Nights, Inside Dr. No, Terence Young: Bond Vivant, Dr. No 1963; Image database, Trailers, TV spots, Radio Spots
Packaging: Keep case in card sleeve
Reviewed: October 24, 2008
1. Someone ought to make a movie about Universal Export's retirement home for James Bond's used-up female playthings, established to take care of them properly and keep them from embarrassing the crown. I think there's a story in that.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson
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